“It was like I was dreaming,” McCormick said, referring to his team’s key fourth quarter drive. “I see Teddy [Barthel, Caledonia’s hefty lineman] downfield and think, 'geez he’s fast.' It’s because of that heart and how they were able to keep going that I could keep going.”
The drive resulted in McCormick bursting his way to a 12-yard touchdown run to put fifth-ranked Caledonia up 20-0. The team tacked on seven more en route to an impressive 27-0 blanking of the mighty Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels.
It was the Warriors’ fourth state title in five years.
“It’s about gap control defense and 11 kids out there believing they can stop anything,” head coach Brent Schroeder said.
Schroeder could not say enough of his defense. The No. 2-ranked Rebels entered the game scoring a Class 2A-best 51.7 points per game. ML/WR features a fierce rushing attack, led by junior running back Jake Disterhaupt.
Disterhaupt rushed 2,242 yards this season, including 244 in his team’s state semifinal win last week. Yesterday, Caledonia defenders stifled Disterhaupt, bottling him up for 49 yards on 15 carries.
“It’s the best offense I’ve seen,” Schroeder said about Moose Lake. “They’ve been killing everybody, I haven’t slept for a week and a half.”
Led by senior linemen Travis Frank and Ted Barthel, the Warriors were up to the task. Beside Disterhaupt, ML/WR has two other 1,000-yard rushers – Josh Cisar and Chris Gassert. But none of the Rebels runners had much success Friday.
Instead, it was McCormick and Caledonia quarterback Kennan Bruening who dominated the ground game today.
The first half began rather slowly on both sides. Until, that is, Bruening fumbled on his own 37-yard line – one of three fumbles on the day for him. This set up ML/WR with an excellent opportunity to strike first.
But the Warriors defense stood strong as, with the Rebels facing third-and-six at the Caledonia 14, linebacker Austin Goergen stuffed Disterhaupt and teammate Alex Betz followed with a stop of Gassert on fourth down.
On the ensuing possession, Bruening redeemed himself – leading his team on a nine-play, 87-yard touchdown drive.
“We have some stud seniors on the right side, and our stud fullback and running back just went through the holes and I’d follow them,” said Bruening, who carried the ball six times for 65 yards on the drive.
Bruening then capitalized on his running prowess by lofting a 10-yard strike to WR Adam Drenckhahn, who easily beat his defender for the game’s first score.
The drive consumed 4:21 of game clock and finished one minute into the second quarter. From there, the Caledonia defense was at it again.
Disterhaupt rushed for nine yards on first down. But the Warriors stuffed ML/WR for no-gains on consecutive plays and followed the three-and-out with a blocked punt.
Senior Houston Halverson rejected the Rebels boot and Caledonia recovered on their opponents’ 13-yard line. However, the scoring opportunity went for naught, as a Goergen 30-yard field goal attempt went wide left.
Caledonia would tally another score five minutes later, when Drenckhahn made the offensive play of the game.
Bruening looked downfield to his left and lofted a pass for his senior receiver. The pass may have been a tad long, but Drenckhahn was able to extend his hands, tip the ball up and haul in the reception before tumbling toward the goal line.
McCormick followed with a one-yard plunge to make it 13-0 at halftime.
The second half featured more Caledonia defense. All game long the Warriors harassed ML/WR quarterback Tony Adamczak and his stable of running backs.
Adamczack completed just one pass, finishing 1-for-5 with two interceptions – he entered the game with only three interceptions all season.
On offense, it was a whole lot of McCormick, rushing behind his dominating offensive line that eventually wore out the Moose Lake defense.
“It’s our O Line getting a drive every single play,” McCormick said. “They don’t get tired, they keep
pushing and so do our fullbacks.”
Before long, Caledonia found itself crowned 2011 state champs.
After a raucous celebration with the team trophy, Schroeder spoke of what this year’s title meant to him and his team.
“Awesome,” he said. “It’s just a tribute to our kids, our coaches, how they work in the offseason, in the weight room and what a great community that we have behind us. I just want to thank everybody for all of that.”
** This game, the 2011 Class 2A Prep Bowl, occurred Friday, Nov. 26. I wrote this story for the Rochester Post-Bulletin. The photos used in this blog posting are AP photos provided by the Post-Bulletin. Descriptions of the photos, from top-to-bottom, are as follows: Caledonia RB Matt Peterson (30) leads his team in a post-game celebration. Caledonia QB Kennan Bruening carries the ball by a pair of Moose Lake-Willow River defenders on a first half run. Caledonia RB Connor McCormick rushes past a ML-WR defender en route to one of this three touchdowns in the game.